The shipments equate to 1 million barrels - about seven times the annual output of a small regional brewer such as Fuller, Smith & Turner, or the annual beer sales of 4,500 medium pubs.
Figures confirming the sharp increase in cross-border shopping will be released next week by the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association, the industrial trade body formerly known as the Brewers' Society. The association yesterday declined to reveal its findings, but sources say its previous estimate for personal imports of beer for 1993 of 265 million pints will have to increase 13 per cent.
Besides surveying passengers using ferries, the association has been in undercover operations to assess the size of the growing illegal import trade in drinks resold in the UK.
There are unconfirmed reports that people are making up to four trips a day in transit vans, and unloading each shipment on an articulated lorry for distribution in the North of England.
Whitbread, the brewing, pubs and food retaling group, said that each transit load yields pounds 300 in clear profit for the smugglers. 'Our estimate for all the beer brought back is 1-1.25 million barrels.'
The drinks industry is calling for a cut in UK taxes on alcholic drinks. UK duty rates on beer are eight times higher than in France while beer prices in French hypermarkets are up to 75 per cent cheaper.
The tax card has already been played by Denmark, whose identical shopping problem was exacerbated by a land border. The Danes cut duty rates by 47 per cent, which led to a one-third fall in cross-border shopping.
The UK is losing about pounds 8m a week in tax on alcoholic drinks brought back from the Continent, and that figure is poisedto rise with an expected increase in travellers once the Channel Tunnel opens.
Cheap fares are already being offered by the ferry companies to combat the competition from the Tunnel which, itself, is set to stimulate travel to France.
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